Hockey: Malaysia overcomes Japan, 4 to 2

By Anne Das

It was an exciting game at the Sultan Azlan Shah Stadium, Ipoh, last night, where Malaysia only needed a draw to qualify for the final to meet unbeaten Korea, but it was all systems go despite having to play three consecutive matches.

“This is the new Malaysian team. They are full of spirit, determined, fast, work as a team and above all showed tremendous character,” said Arul.

“They fight till the end even when leading, this shows how spirited they are.”

Arul said they wanted to finish off Japan by the third quarter and they did that, but they could have done better in the last quarter.

“I am concerned about giving away corners and getting cards towards the end of the game. Maybe they were anxious and over excited, but must learn to be calmer. Something I will have to work on.”

Arul also praised goalkeeper Hafizzudin Othman for the penalty stroke save in the 39th minute which prevented Japan from equalising 3-3.

“I am glad that Hafizzudin has bounced back and shown tremendous character after I took him to task after our opening game 0-3 loss to Korea,” said Arul.

Goalkeeper coach S. Kumar said that it was all the hard work Hafizzudin had put in training that saw him perform well.

“A Goalkeeper is a “key man” in the team, they keep the team in the game. Hafizzudin may not have been in best form in the opening game, but he has bounced back excellently with his brilliant performance after that,” said Kumar, the ex-international goalkeeper who had capped 323 and played from 1999 to 2019.

“His penalty flick save was a turning point for the team tonight.”

Arul welcomed the two-day break before they meet Korea in the finals and said that the team is looking forward to creating history by winning the championship for the first time. Nevertheless, he said the players know that it is not going to be an easy path.

Japan’s coach Akira Takahashi was naturally disappointed but credited Malaysia for their fine performance.

“We knew we were in for a tough time against Malaysia because they have been improving with every match. It was the two early goals that gave us tremendous pressure and which put Malaysia in the advantage,” said Takahshi.

“We did well to get back in the game, but the turning point was when we failed to convert the penalty stroke.

“The team has come here with the mindset to win the title for the first time and they tried their best. Now we must settle for at least the third spot when we play against Pakistan.

“We will be back and even stronger from this experience,” was Takahshi’s parting words.

Last night, Malaysia got off to a dream start against Japan with penalty goals by Razie Rahim in two consecutive penalty corners in the 8th and 9th minute.

But Japan slowly clawed back to the game putting us on the edge of our seats and eventually scored through a penalty corner set piece when pusher Kaito Tanaka scored from penalty flicker Raiki Fujisma in the 23nd minute despite Malaysian goalkeeper Hafizzudin Othman trying his best to cut him off.

Returning for the second half, and after a pep talk by coach A. Arul Selvaraj, the Malaysian team immediately got into action to score from a field goal off Aiman Rozemi to put the score at 3-1.

But Japan, not to be outdone and wanting to stay in the game, scored their second goal off a penalty corner through Shota Yamada in the 35th minute to reduce their deficit to 3-2 and put heat on Malaysia again.

There was a tense moment for the Malaysian camp when a penalty stroke was awarded to Japan in the 39th minute.

The penalty stroke taken by  Yoshiki Kirishita was saved brilliantly by Hafizzudin, while captain Najmi Jazlan was sent to the ‘sin bin’ for trying to reason with umpire Shaik Javed for awarding the stroke.

Boosted by the save, Malaysia fought back even harder to get another field goal in 46th minute through Norsyafiz Sumantri to extend their lead to 4-2

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